Translational Semantics

Translational Semantics - ERNEST LEPORE AND BARRY LOEWER...

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ERNEST LEPORE AND BARRY LOEWER T'RANSLATIONAL SEMANTICS· David Lewis has criticized semant'ic theories which assign meanings to sentences of a language L by translating them into some other language L·. Even if has been expressly designed to exhibit semantic features, he thinks such a theory would nevertheless fail to be a theory of meaning for L. His primary target is Katz and Postal's theory which he claims interprets English by translating it into a symbolic language he calls "Semantic Markerese. tt The objection is that: .•. we can know the Markerese translation of an English sentence without knowing the first thing about the meaning of the English sentence: namely, the conditions under whichit would be true. Semantics with no truth conditions is no semantics. I Clearly, Lewis thinks that an adequate semantics for L must assign to the (indicative) sentences of L their truth-conditions and that trans- lational semantics fails to do this. Jerry Fodor and Gilbert Harman have each responded to Lewis' criticism by arguing that Lewis overstates the difference between translational semantics and truth-condition semantics.! Fodor parries the criticism by arguing that Lewis' objection applies equally to truth-condition theories. Harman agrees and further claims to have ,shown how to convert a translational semantics into an "equivalent" truth-condition semantics. He also argues that truth-conditions have less to do with meaning than is commonly supposed and that truth condition semantics illuminates meaning not by assigning truth-con- ditions but through exhibiting the role of logical words "and," "or," etc. in its recursion clauses. A number of other authors have agreed with Harman and Fodor in seeing little difference, if any, between specifying meaning by trans- lation and specifying meaning in terms of truth-conditions.' In this paper we argue that all these authors have misunderstood Lewis' objection. We will show that at least with respect' to one task , semantics is reasonably called on to perform, there is an important ':difference between truth-condition semantics and translational Synthese 48 (1981) 121-133. 0039-7857/81/0481-0121 $01.30 ;r: Copyright cs> 1981 by D. Reidel Publishing Co., Dordrecht, Holland, and Boston, U.S.A.
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semantics. By focusing on this task we will not only explain why translational semantics is inadequate but also provide a partial justification for the slogan that to give the meaning of a sentence is to give its truth-conditions. What should a semantics for a language L accomplish? There is no uniquely correct answer to this question. Here are some: it should show how the meanings of complex expressions depend on the meanings of their constituents; it should account for logical and other semantic features of a language (like logical consequence, logical truth, synonymy, analyticity, and so on); it should provide an account of how the illocutionary force of an utterance is determined on the basis of its semantical features and context. These are worthy under- takings. Here we will focus on a task that is related to these but is
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Translational Semantics - ERNEST LEPORE AND BARRY LOEWER...

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